Strombolied and Trapped in Trapani

Mon 5 Sep 2016 17:22

Despite the Strombolian images replaying in my mind I did doze for a couple of hours until a wind shift roused me. On deck we raised (unfurled) full mainsail and genoa and stayed thus rigged until we reached Cefalù (pronounced chefaloo) around noon. I had booked a berth here unaware that the marina was little more than a couple of floating pontoons chained to a concrete dock but depths were fine and once all our mooring tasks had been completed Lynn produced plates of scrambled egg and smoked salmon which went down well with lashings of coffee.

The little harbour lies to the west of Cefalù old town, hidden from it by the towering, nigh on one thousand foot high, stone mass of Capo Cefalù topped by fortifications some of which date back to Roman times. We strolled into town that evening, passing the attractive white lighthouse sited on the lower slopes of the rock and walking the time worn sea wall that has protected the old town since the time of its founding by the Greeks around 450BC. The narrow cobbled streets home now to chic bars and restaurants some with balconies cantilevered out from the old stones over the soft, deepening blue of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Cefalù an unpretentious mix of historic site, fishing port and in summer tourist (mostly Italian) destination for it has a fine beach to the east. We come across the Piazza Duomo dominated by the truly beautiful Norman cathedral of King Roger II of Sicily. He commanded that it be built in 1131 after he survived a shipwreck and was washed ashore on the beach here. He never saw it completed (1240) but it remains one of the finest examples of Norman cathedral building in Europe.  Set at the east end of the piazza atop a flight of thirty or more steps almost as wide as the piazza itself, its lofty, twin, soft gold hued, square towers furnished with mullioned and arched windows and topped by four sided, tall steeply pitched roofs (added in the 15th century) stand majestically to each side of the triple Norman arched façade.

Back to town next morning and after coffee and pastries at a café in the piazza beneath Roger’s twin towers Lynn elects to explore the narrow lanes and alleys of the old town further whilst Peter and I head for the railway station to purchase tickets for his return to Catania tomorrow. Travel arrangements completed we decide to tackle Capo Cefalù.  After purchasing sufficient water we begin our ascent at first the going is relatively easy with steps cut into the rock with soldier laid brick edges and a stout green metal handrail to one side. We zig zag our way up the first three hundred or so feet to the lowest remaining part of the fortification. Beyond that point only rough stone steps take us up to the next crumbling stone arch a further couple of hundred feet higher. Now there are no steps just rock and its steeper much steeper as we make our way over boulders following as much as possible a rough track between the scrub. With elevated heart rates and a sense of accomplishment we reach the fort and enjoy the magnificent views to seaward and inland as we explore the remains and marvel at the fortitude of those whose job it was to provide food water and all the necessities of life to those garrisoned here.

I had hired a car for next day and after running Peter to the station and bidding him bon voyage for he flies back to the U.K. tomorrow, we set out to explore the hinterland. It has been fun having Peter aboard and I think he has enjoyed experiencing our nomadic, cruising, lifestyle. This northern part of Sicily is a delight, range after range of sharp edged mountains stretch onwards no matter what height you view from. Rich and fertile slopes and valleys abound with fields, vineyards and orchards where grow, oranges, lemons, tomatoes, figs and olives, artichokes and grapes, almond and pistachio nuts. Sheep, cattle and goats are kept their milk used for the production of the many and varied cheeses produced here. The higher slopes of maquis and unforgiving prickly pear finally giving way to bare rock, thrusting dark, jagged pinnacles piercing into blue cloudless sky. There are a few remote dwellings but most seem to favour small villages, the houses clustered together in valley corners like a litter of puppies seeking warmth and consolation in each other’s company.   

We pull into one such village where all is quiet, parked cars and washing drying on lines strung from first floor balconies the only signs of occupation. Parking the Lancia we walk the silent streets of dusty, shuttered shop fronts reflecting the heat of the noon day sun.  Chancing upon what appears to be the only open bar, its solitary customer does not even glance up from his Geornali Italiani on our arrival, the dregs of his espresso dried hard on the side of the tiny cup long since drunk. In the dark interior the patron, grubby cloth in hand looks up from his counter hidden labours enquiringly and responds to my half English half Italian request  by pointing us towards Trattoria La Laterna the only taverna in town. We find inside a plain but scrupulously clean establishment occupied by a handful of locals sitting in ones and twos at solid looking cloth draped tables. We order beers and spaghetti carbonara. The beer arrives well chilled followed by a huge steaming pan of carbonara from which the waitress fills the bowls in front of us and leaves as much again still steaming in its pan on our table. It is good very good but neither of us could eat all that was in our bowls let alone scoop more from the pan. We make apologies for our pathetic appetites and were rewarded with a smile and two tiny cups of very, very strong espresso coffee, which we sugared well and drank before settling our bill of fourteen Euros.

On full stomachs we continued our tour on empty albeit in places crumbling roads of this stunning landscape. High on a mountainside the road passing through swathes of prickly pear their crimson fruits tempted me to stop and pick some as neither of us had tried the fruit. Given their name I was careful but not careful enough as my hands were inoculated by hundreds of tiny hair like barbs which reminded me of their presence for the rest of the day despite my picking and washing.  Back aboard Pamarzi I very carefully skinned the fruits revealing the red/purple flesh full of seeds, the taste whilst not unpleasant was of very mild mango with just a hint of melon and certainly not worth the piercings I had endured in the collecting.

Back to a crew of two we left our berth next morning bleary eyed after a rolly night of clanking pontoon chains like something out of Dickens's Christmas Carol and set course for Sicily’s capital city Palermo. From the sea we were reminded of Athens as we rounded a headland and Palermo sprawled grey before us as far as the eye could see. We found our berth in Marina di Villa Igiea beneath the imposing Grand Hotel Villa Igiea which we looked forward to visiting but tonight after a couple of drinks in the marina bar and a snacky supper we retired to catch up on sleep.

Palermo as we discovered next day has its fair share of Baroque grandeur amidst the concrete and we saw some real gems on our taxi journey across town to visit the Catacombs of the Cappuccini. Apparently Palermo's Capuchin monastery outgrew its original cemetery in the 16th century and monks began to excavate crypts below it. In 1599 they mummified one of their number, recently dead brother Silvestro of Gubbio, and placed him into the catacombs where he remains to this day. They developed a technique whereby bodies were dehydrated on the racks of ceramic pipes in the catacombs and sometime later washed with vinegar. Some of the bodies were embalmed and others enclosed in sealed glass cabinets. Monks were preserved with their everyday clothing and sometimes with ropes they had worn as a penance.

Originally the catacombs were intended only for the dead friars. However, in the following centuries it became a status symbol to be entombed into the Capuchin catacombs and no doubt the monks recognised that they had a lucrative source of income on their hands. In their wills, local luminaries would ask to be preserved in certain clothes, or even to have their clothes changed at regular intervals. Priests wore their clerical vestments; others were clothed according to the contemporary fashion. Relatives would visit to pray for the deceased and also to maintain the body in presentable condition. The catacombs were maintained through the donations of the relatives of the deceased. Each new body was placed in a temporary niche and later placed into a more permanent spot. As long as the contributions continued, the body remained in its proper place but when the relatives did not send money any more, the body was put aside on a shelf until they resumed payment.

There are now around nine thousand five hundred bodies in the catacombs in various states of preservation, neatly arranged into categories: Men, Women, Virgins, Children, Priests, Monks, and Professionals. Some are set in poses; for example, two children are sitting together in a rocking chair. All rather macabre but the clothing still intact from the various periods is fascinating. The last burials are from the 1920s and one of the very last to be interred was poor little two year old Rosalia Lombardo who died from a throat infection. Her body preserved by more modern means lies in a glass coffin where she appears to have just dropped off to sleep so perfect is her condition.

Back in the land of the living we decided that evening to take an aperitif at the Grand Hotel Villa Igiea, so dressed in our finery we walked through the marble and oak panelled grandeur of the chandelier hung foyer to the sunset lit terrace where a pianist expertly played well known melodies from the thirties and forties on his Steinway grand and soft shoed waiters addressed us in gentle, reverent tones and brought us gin and tonics at fourteen Euros a time. It was fun but rather than spend a couple of hundred Euros dining there we opted to eat at a rather pleasant looking restaurant we had seen on our walk up. On entering said establishment I spotted Paul and Caroline Frew owners of Oyster 575 Juno who we had not met before but had corresponded with by email. Naturally I went over to introduce ourselves, they were dining with their friend Consuela and I’m embarrassed to say that my intervention led to the coldness of their supper. It was though lovely to meet them and to learn that they too were heading for Trapani but were breaking up the journey by overnighting at small marina at Capo San Vito.

We decided to follow suit and having obtained a berth at Capo San Vito and changed our booking at Trapani we set next morning around 10.00 for the two or three hour sail. We had not been there long when Juno arrived and was berthed next to us, the first time we have had another 575 as an immediate neighbour. We enjoyed chatting with Paul and Caroline and Consuela and her husband (another) Paul both that afternoon and the following morning. Capo San Vito the marina on floating pontoons off the sand a quiet little place but that evening we found that Capo San Vito the little town buzzed with activity. Restaurants and market stalls, street vendors and buskers fed, entertained and took money from the many families holidaying there and enjoying its white, sandy beaches and safe shallow waters.

It was a motor sail in light airs to Trapani the following day where we entered the large busy harbour and found our way to Marina Arturo Stabile in a thankfully quiet corner. Mooring jobs done we ate on board and watched a DVD of our granddaughter Robyn in her school play Pirates of the Curry Bean, very entertaining to proud eyed grandparents.

We may be here longer than originally anticipated as there is weather coming in, but more of that anon.